Last weekend was the fourth Sisterhood retreat. Fourth! I am always blown away that this is happening, that I organise, run and host retreats for women. Badass, awesome, creative women, who travel half way round the world to come. Yes, they did, and I am in awe.
Our retreat was set on solstice weekend, the height of mid summer, with hedgerows full of leafy ferns and the kitchen garden bursting with produce. A sumptuous, voluptuous time of year, with a new moon – it was going to be magical.
Back at the leafy Fforest camp near Cardigan our guest arrived from all over, nervously excited to meet everyone, and settle in for the weekend. It is always such a pleasure to meet these women, some old friends who I have know for years, others online friends and other totally new, soon to be firm friends.
The evening started with an opening ceremony from my dear friend Sas Petherick, who, with her warmth and wisdom always makes me cry, in a good way of course. She began to lead the women into a thankful meditation, and to set our intentions from the weekend. Going around the group we spoke out about wanting to relax, make connections, learn from other creatives and spend time in nature. A perfect start in a nurturing setting such as Sisterhood.
The following morning, Friday, we met in the Cedar barn for a morning session of Yoga with Melanie Barnes, Geoffrey and Grace. I’ve been to many yoga classes before, but never learnt to breathe and chant. A soothing stretch followed by a meditation with the rain hammering down on the tin roof above. Chanting rhythmically it seemed to call in the rain, and once we finished, the rain stopped to reveal a brighter day.
After breakfast the first of our workshops. Jam making with Lillie O’Brien of London Borough of Jam and wood working with Karen Baldry of This Little Corner.
Lillie taught the sisters back in a winter retreat how to make Quince jelly, this time she was using summer fruits. Strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. But Lillie being Lillie then introduced the sisters to add unusual flavours to their jam. After a quick forage in Fforests kitchen garden, sprigs of lavender, fig, borage and mint were added to the separate pans.
Soon a delicious scent of strawberries wafted across the camp, enticing us in for a look as the jam was swiftly decanted in to pretty Ball ‘quilted’ jam jars – special thanks to Ball for donating the jars for our Sisterhood jam making workshop.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the camp, Karen had set up a workshop for the sisters to learn how to make a wooden loom. Karen returned this summer after the success of her workshop last year. A cacophony of noise with sawing, drilling and hammering. From lengths of wood, soon they were turned into unique, handmade works of art.
For many, using a power tool on their loom was a first time experience. And with Karen’s help, they soon mastered the skills need to cut and fix the wood together. The results were magnificent.
After lunch we settled down to more workshops. Ceramics with Amanda Banham and wabi sabi styling with Emma Rice. Again the group was split into two, and set in different areas of the Fforest site.
Amanda bought her Clay Club to Sisterhood. Lugging large slabs of clay all the way from Kent in her Land Rover. Determined to bring the full clay experience for the sisters, Amanda showed us how to make a mug using the slab technique. In other words, the clay was rolled and flattened and then shaped around a mould to create the mug shape. Once this was created, then designs were screen printed to the clay or marks added for a unique look.
Once the mugs were finished, Amanda then took them home to be fired in her kiln, and posted to the Sisters in a few weeks. Something to look forward to!
Down at the Lodge, Emma Rice was explaining her love of the Japanese art of Wabi Sabi and how this ethos imparts in every aspect of her life. From Emma’s beautiful home to her love of rawness and imperfections in her styling and photography.
As Emma started to unpack her props, and the group was hooked. Battered tin baking trays, wooden spoons, spools of cotton, dried sun flower seed heads, brushes from Japan and so on. Each piece as tactile as the next. We couldn’t wait to try our hand at wabi sabi styling.
After workshops, supper. A feast of bbq chicken, slaw and salad – with a lemon posset desert – YUM!
Beautiful styling as ever by my good pal and sisterhood stylist, Hannah Bullivant and ably assisted by Lucy Franks. A champagne coloured theme was created in the Lodge Barn. White table cloths and linens from the ever brilliant Linenme. With white crockery and silver cutlery the whole place gleamed with serenity and purity.
Oh and candles were lit by Charlie too! Yes, Dan and the boys came to Sisterhood, although most of the time they stayed well out of the way, but every now and then their curiosity took over and I found them sneaking in to have a look. And I am grateful for their unending support.
After we were feasted, a little trip to the pub next door and then to gather around the camp fire for our annual book group with Laura Pashby. This summer we discussed the short essay by Robert Macfarlane, called ‘The Gifts of Reading’. Such a lively discussion, where the sisters shared their love of reading, what books they have loved receiving and books they give as gifts.
As always at these gatherings, conversations evolve and end up talking about life in general mostly with hilarity and always with such honesty. Women coming together in conversation is the best, especially around a camp fire with wine.
Lou Archell, a writer, photographer, stylist and the founder of Sisterhood Camp.
Lou is also a busy mum of two amazing boys and can be found over on her blog Littlegreenshed, where she shares her life, loves and inspiration. Lou is passionate about supporting and inspiring others whether through her workshops, writing, photography or lifestyle hacks.